For many Americans, the cheapest beach vacation lies just south of the border in Cancun, Mexico. The beaches in Cancun are beautiful, there are dozens of resorts offering swim-up bars, all-inclusive amenities, and guided excursions. Sadly, many who visit this enchanting part of the world rarely leave their resort and say little more than “uno mas cerveza” to the bartenders and waiters catering to their every need. I understand that the majority of people visiting Cancun are on vacation. They aren’t there on some deeply cultural trip to mingle with locals and become immersed in the heritage. They are there to drink fruity drinks, relax, and forget about their problems. No shame in that. Ironically though, some of the world’s biggest problems are right in front of them. And if visitors to Cancun would take a few minutes to truly talk to the staff, get to know about their lives, and hear their stories, it might change their perspectives on a few political issues…issues like immigration.
I have intentionally stayed away from writing about anything that is remotely political in nature, but this post definitely touches on a controversial topic in the United States. Consider this a warning, you might disagree with what I’m about to say. I genuinely welcome healthy debate and respect different opinions, so whether you agree with my point of view or not, feel free to leave a comment and share your perspective.
Immigration and the case for the “bad hombres”
Illegal immigration has always been a problem in the USA. Perhaps now more than ever the topic of immigration has divided our country. The current administration has gone on record saying those who illegally crossed the border into the United States are “bad hombres”, criminals, rapists, and thugs. The president’s proposed solution is to round up all “illegals”, essentially yanking them from their homes in the middle of the night, and herding them out of the country by the millions. He then wants to build a wall to keep them out.
While I agree immigration is an issue in the US that needs to be fixed, I strongly disagree with the current president’s solution to the problem.
Having traveled across numerous Latin American countries, I can attest that the vast majority of those crossing the border illegally are the furthest thing from “bad hombres”.
We’ve traveled throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, and Colombia… all countries which are extremely impoverished by US standards. Never have we felt unsafe. Sure, Mexico and other Latin American countries have some serious crime issues. The drug cartel has created a violent situation in areas near the Mexico/US border. It’s extremely dangerous. I do not turn a blind eye to that, nor would I travel to the dangerous cities along the border. But for the most part, Latin America is full of some of the kindest people on earth. The people have embraced us and our daughter. They’ve greeted us with smiles and a few curious looks. We’ve engaged in conversation in broken half-English/half-Spanish. And every time we return home, we feel a deeper love and appreciation for the people from all the countries the US seems to be fighting so hard to keep out.
Why you should talk to your Mexican waiter
Some believe that the simple act of crossing into the United States without documentation makes one a criminal. During my career as a journalist and when working in the nonprofit world, I met many undocumented immigrants living in the US. They live in fear, trying to keep a low profile so they don’t get picked up by immigration officers. They’re good people desperately seeking a better life, even if it means basically living their life in hiding.
Many would love to be US citizens and would take tests, learn the language, pay taxes, and do whatever they could to do so. The problem with the messed up immigration system in America is that they can’t. There is basically nothing someone living in the US illegally can do to become a legal resident short of marrying a US citizen. The path for someone living in Latin America to apply and get accepted for legal residency in the US is also quite impossible. Thus in lies the problem. Crossing illegally is their best – and sometimes only – choice.
Imagine a life so horrible that a mother’s best option is to send her 15-year-old son to another country alone. Imagine that young boy journeying across the desert for days by himself, scared, knowing he is risking his life crossing into another country. Now imagine that boy entering a foreign land where he doesn’t know the language and has no money to buy food or find shelter for even a night. As a mother, I cannot imagine making that choice. How bad must life be that turning away your child is better than holding him close? Is that 15-year-old boy a “bad hombre”? Is his mother a “bad mujer”?
Our waiter’s story
That story is not hypothetical. That is the story of a waiter we met in Mexico. But sadly, his story didn’t end there. He did make it across the border, found work as a roofer and eventually enrolled in school in the US. He learned English, met a girl, and the two eventually had a child. But that’s where the happy story ends. One day he was pulled over and arrested for driving without a license. Once authorities realized he was undocumented, he was sent to prison where he spent 8 months. Eight months in prison for driving without a license! He was then deported.
Desperately wanting to reunite with his family, the young man tried to cross the border again. Only this time it wasn’t immigration but the cartel who caught him. They threw a bag over his head, beat him badly, and threatened to kill him if his family didn’t pay them $10,000. The family sold their car and what few belongings they had to pay his ransom. Luckily, the cartel let him go, and he never tried to cross the border again. He eventually moved to Cancun and took a service job to earn a living, although a meager one, and sends all his money to his family.
His daughter is now 7-years-old and he hasn’t seen her in years. I could see the pain in his face as he talked about his daughter. It’s a pain I can’t even fathom.
How traveling changed my perspective on immigration
I’m sure many of the people working in resorts in Mexico have similar stories. Stories you will never hear unless you stop for a moment and speak to them. If people take time to engage in deeper conversation with the staff at these all-inclusive resorts, they might leave Cancun with more than just a hangover. Traveling changes your perspective on things. It has changed my perspective and my political views in a lot of ways. For many years, I never had a strong opinion on the subject of immigration… simply because it didn’t affect me as a white, American-born citizen. But traveling has given me a new point of view on immigration.